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Evanston/Skokie School District 65 continues to see a drop in student enrollment. The January 2022 Opening of Schools Report shows 6,393 K-8 students enrolled in the 2021-22 school year, down 536 students or 7.7% from 6,929 in 2020-21.
The district’s kindergarten enrollment held nearly steady this school year, but it has not made up any ground after falling dramatically in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Enrollment dropped from 768 students in the 2019-20 school year to 636 in 2020-21, a decrease of 132 kindergartners.
Although the 636 students in the 2019-20 kindergarten cohort remained in the district as this year’s class of 636 first graders, there has been no mass return of students to restore that cohort to previous enrollment levels. Additionally, the lower numbers have continued, as shown by the 2021-22 kindergarten enrollment of 634 students.
The graph below illustrates the consistent decrease in the District’s K-8 enrollment, from the high of 7,559 students in 2016-17 to the current enrollment of 6,393 in 2021-22. Student enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year was reported in October 2019, before the pandemic and the school closures of March 2020.
In five-year enrollment projections submitted for the district’s Dec. 13 school board meeting, Manager of Student Assignments Sarita Smith wrote that pandemic-related factors affecting enrollment include “birth rates, residential construction/demolition, family mobility, opting for private schools or homeschooling, and changes in the economy.”
Smith also noted, “These are critical factors during the past two years as COVID has significantly impacted several … [of those] influences.”
In her report, Smith described the district’s process of calculating enrollment projections, which are based on three-year averages of enrolled students at each grade level. She stated that typically “one-year error rates of more than 2% and five-year error rates of more than 5%” occur, with larger error rates for kindergarten projections.
Smith included data provided by Charles Kofron, a demographer whose specialty includes school enrollment projections. Smith said Kofron’s model is based on actual birth rate and birth rate projections, but does not account for any COVID-19 influences.
There is alignment between the district’s enrollment projection of 6,215 and Kofron’s projection of 6,273 at the end of five years, in 2026-27. However, Kofron’s 2021-22 starting baseline of 7,411 reflects 914 more students than the district’s baseline of 6,497.
In essence, Kofron predicts a decrease ranging from 202 to 253 students per year over the next five years, compared with the district’s lower baseline but more conservative decrease range of 42 to 82 students per year.
The RoundTable asked Smith and Kofron for clarification on the differing starting points, but no response was received before this article was posted online. As conversations about school attendance boundaries and discussions of whether to open or close schools proceed, the completed demographic study will be of interest when made available to the public.
2024-25 projections by school
Analysis of the district’s five-year projections shows some variation at the individual school level. Eight schools are poised to lose students. The only middle school with a projected decrease in enrollment is Chute, with a loss of 55 students by 2024-25. Meanwhile, enrollment is expected to increase by 2024-25 at the district’s other middle schools, Haven and Nichols, by 15 and seven students, respectively.
The majority of the district’s elementary schools are expected to see decreases in enrollment over the next five years, with the greatest loss at Washington (47), followed by Dawes (42), Walker (33), Orrington (25), Lincolnwood (23), Lincoln (17), Dewey (16) and Willard (13). The only two elementary schools with a projected enrollment increase are Oakton (32) and Kingsley (13).
One of the District’s K-8 magnet schools, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School, is projected to lose 23 students by 2024-25. The other K-8, Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, is projected to gain 19 students. Smith’s report noted that COVID-19 social-distancing requirements for students to be three feet apart led to a “capacity maximum at local area schools” that necessitated sending more students to the magnet schools, skewing their enrollment numbers higher. “Their projections are a bit of an anomaly, but we project that King will decrease in enrollment and Rhodes will increase,” Smith wrote.
The Opening of Schools Report contained additional data on the district’s student demographics, including the overall ethnic distribution of students for 2021-22, which is 41% white, 23% Black, 22% Hispanic/Latinx, 10% multiracial, 4% Asian and the balance designated as American Indian or Pacific Islander.
As of Oct. 1, there were 2,135 students identified as low income, which includes families receiving public aid, students living in institutions for neglected or delinquent children, students supported in foster homes with public funds or students who are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch. That means 31% of the served students are designated as low income, down 2 percentage points from 2020-21.
There are 236 students eligible for services under the federal McKinney-Vento Act that aids students who do not have a fixed, adequate or regular nighttime residence. Of these students, 79% are sharing housing, 9% are in emergency or transitional shelters, 9% are housed in hotels/motels and 2% are unsheltered. There was an 18% increase (up 36 students) in the number of students identified as homeless in 2021-22 compared with 2020-21.
The special education student enrollment (Pre-K-8) for 2021-22 is 13% (867 students) of the total enrollment, an increase of 2% compared with last year’s 846 students.
The English learners Pre-K-8 student enrollment increased slightly in 2021-22 to 1,097 students (16% of the total district enrollment) compared with 970 students in 2020-21. There are 80 native languages spoken among all students served and 62 native languages among the English learners. English is the predominant native language among students (74.5%) followed by Spanish (15.3%).